I love my church! I find it sad when I meet other Christians who do not seem to love theirs. Maybe they don’t know they are supposed to love their churches. Some treat the local church as a garment to try on for fit or discard according to changing styles. Church membership is a serious matter. It’s not the same as membership in a health club or a book of the month club, which can be continued or dropped according to whim. Changing churches ought not to be so casual.
Those who church hop” often try to justify their love-them-and-leave-them actions with a variety of reasons. They may say that they feel they cannot be in fellowship with certain other members or that they are not “fed” by the preaching or that they think they can find Christ honored or worshiped better somewhere else. Some even maintain that it doesn’t matter if they leave a local body because, most importantly, they belong to the true, invisible Church that includes everyone ever saved by the blood of Christ.
Certainly a difference exists between the Church, the Body of Christ, and the individual churches. Yet the holy catholic (universal) Church we confess in the Apostles’ Creed is not, as some say, “invisible.” Peter, Paul, Barnabas and many others who followed are very visible in history. Even today, ordinary people within the Body are radiating God’s glory very visibly in local congregations. Some of them are in my church, and some are in yours.
That is as it ought to be. I am a member of a local church that is visible. Our lovely, historic old building has a cross on the dome that can be seen from the highway. That is one kind of visibility, but when we do what a good church ought to do, we become very visible in a more important way. That prominence comes not from a lighted cross or from exhibiting ourselves, but from showing the Savior to others by our attitudes, our words and our deeds.
When Christians show more of themselves and less of the Savior, they tarnish His shining image and disappoint other church members. Disappointment fosters discontent, and some of the discontented are quick to declare unhappiness with their churches. When I hear such a declaration of discontent, it makes me as sad as when I hear a husband say he is unhappy with his wife or when I hear parents complain about what they think is wrong with their children.
The churches we join are ours. Even if we don’t like everything about them, we have a relationship with them. Maybe we feel that the music is substandard. Maybe we consider the preaching trite. Maybe we think that some of the people are shallow. Without a doubt, we all could make a long list of what we think is wrong with our particular church, but how many of our complaints would be petty?
We would do well to forget the petty flaws and annoyances and concentrate on rectifying more serious faults. Aside from not preaching a clear gospel message, the worst fault that can mar any church is that of trying to attract people or please them for the sake of membership more than trying to please God.
For example, suppose that a church member does something that Scripture says is wrong. The church leaders get together and rule that the errant member may attend services but is under discipline and is not to receive communion until he or she makes restitution. The member responds that he was wrongly accused and is not going to make restitution. He says that the church leaders are judgmental and unfair and threatens to leave unless the discipline is lifted. Should the leaders then insist on their ruling? I think that very few churches today would undertake that kind of discipline.
Any church that succumbs to pressure from one of its members is pandering to people instead of seeking to please God. The standards in such a church are only as high as its members or prospective members want them to be.
Whatever is wrong, or whatever we feel is wrong with our church, it is our responsibility. We are the church to which we belong. We should be loyal to it. If we are dissatisfied with some aspect of our church, we should try to change it from within instead of abandoning it to go elsewhere.
I feel great loyalty to my own church in downtown San Francisco. When I am not out of town preaching, you can find me there in the pew. I like the pastor and the preaching, but I also find other elements of equal importance. Though our congregation is somewhat small, we carry on an extensive missionary program. We sponsor a Christian school. We have a Sunday morning bus ministry. We care for and pray for one another. Our people are friendly, and the composition of the congregation meets my ideal in that it contains people of various races, colors and stations in life.
When I joined that church, I asked God to help me love the people and the pastor, and I do. I would never say that my church is perfect or that it is in any way better than the churches others belong to and ought to love. Nevertheless, because it is my church, I have made a commitment to love it and to be loyal to it.
Commitment entails more than mere sentiment. Commitment is an action of the will. You don’t leave those you love. My wife and daughters are not yet perfect, but because I love them, I have a permanent commitment to them. The commitment to belong to a church is like the commitment to family. It is a pledge to love that church and to stay with it unless God moves us through specific circumstances such as geographic relocation or a call to minister elsewhere.
We ought to be fully commited to our churches. We ought to love them, not only for what they are but also for what they can be. When we don’t see enough love in the churches as they are, let’s love them for their potential and for what God can help us make them.
When God looks at us judicially, He sees us as perfect, the way we will be one day in Christ. Perhaps we need to look at our churches the same way and see what they are becoming in Christ.